Henri II, Gros de Nesle 1550, Paris

Started by Figleaf, February 04, 2022, 12:58:03 PM

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Figleaf

Henri II; Dy 994. Officially a gros of 6 blancs (which, just to confuse you, is the equivalent of 30 deniers Tournois or 2 sols Parisis), better known as a gros de Nesle, because it was struck in the Hôtel de Nesle, originally the grand house of the De Nesle family. Eventually, it became royal property. Part of the river defenses, the Tour de Nesle, was connected to the house. The house had several uses, but in 1550, it was where the Paris mint was. The site of the house is now occupied by the bibliothèque Mazarine, the neighbour of the later Paris mint, now the Monnaie de Paris museum.

obv: crowned H with heraldic lillies. +HENRICVS.II.DEI.Gratia.FRANCORVm.REX [crown] - Henri II by the grace of god king of France
rev: decorated cross. [crown]SIT.NOMEN.DomiNI.BENEDICTVM.1550

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Tirant

An interesting piece; a little bit used, but still very good looking.

Many things happened in that Tour de Nesle a couple of centuries before this coin was minted there ;D

Figleaf

Thank you, Tirant. For what it is, it isn't as used as it looks. It's a bit of a weak strike, but there's a reason. I scanned it and drew a perfect circle around it, deleting everything outside the circle so that you see what's missing as grey background. Just two little slivers, probably because the coin was adjusted by removing access weight. Here is the story behind that unusual roundness and the weak strike.

Henri's father, François I, spent his life fighting the Habsburg Charles V for the dominance of Europe. François won a few battles, gained Calais but lost the struggle. France's finances were a horrible mess. Henri made peace with Charles V and set out to improve things. Not at his expense, though. Here's a little anecdote to illustrate that. Henri had received a gift of a lion, a dromedary and a jaguar. He asked the city of Paris to take care of them. The city reacted qu'elle est assez chargée en autres choses (they already had enough stuff to pay for). To which Henri reacted that il verrait par là que les Parisiens n'ont aucune envie de le gratifier et de lui complaire (he would interpret this as that the Parisians have no desire to gratify and please him.) Paris hastily arranged for the royal zoo and a budget of 24 sous per day (12 coins like mine) for feed and zoo keepers.

Henri's way to improve the coinage was impressive. In his first year of reign, he appointed a "tailleur général" (national medallist), who was responsible for all dies and punches. Provincial mints could only finish the dies with their mint mark and the marks of officers as they case may be. Dating the coins and including the king's reign number in the legend became compulsory and Bretagne lost its right to strike feudal coins. Having unified the coinage, all mints were closed on 31st January 1549. Paris was re-opened first on 8th February 1549. Others followed one by one until mid-1551. Presumably, each mint was thoroughly re-organised while it was closed. Henri's friends seem to have found jobs as master of provincial mints.

The whole operation caused a scarcity of coins while new ones were being minted. On 25th March 1550, an auxiliary mint was created in the hôtel de Nesle, just for minting gros and half gros coins. The minting was undoubtedly hurried, which explains the weak strike. Its mint mark was A, while the Paris mint added a dot below the 18th letter of the legend of coins it produced.

The Nesle mint was closed on 17th June 1551, not because its services were superfluous, but because on 27th March 1551, a new mint was opened in the Jardin des Etuves. This mint worked with a new invention, secretly bought from an Austrian engineer: a coin press working on water power. The story of this mint is another epic drama. The reason behind this move was that Henri was determined to stop clipping (cutting off slivers of metal from a coin.) His idea was that if the coins were perfectly round and had a lettered edge, clipping would be immediately visible. This is what is behind the roundness of the coin. As you can see, the Nesle mint failed on this point. Having complete letters near the edge clashed with the haste demanded of the mint and the wish to mint coins at the correct weight, but not any heavier. The Etuves mint could in theory produce perfectly round coins of the correct weight with legend intact. It didn't turn out that way.

Taking another little side road here, Henri II died a spectacular but accidental death at the hands of the captain of his Scottish guard in an anachronistic tournament during a court celebration. Wiki has a nice
print of the scene. Click to enlarge it and you will find that among the public are two figures destined to play a key role in Dutch history: The count of Horne and the prince of Orange, William, said to be silent, dressed up as medieval knights. On the print, they stand side by side and talk to each other...

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.